I wish I was carefree and go with the flow all the time but sometimes life just stresses me out. You know those days where you just feel overwhelmed? Responsibilities keep piling up. That little voice in your head is going in a thousand different directions, telling you that you can’t get it all done. It’s hard to come up with a game plan to get through the day when all the voices in your head are telling you that it’s impossible. It’s times like these when I need to go to my secret weapon. Meditation for stress.
I used to be a skeptic about meditation. How can sitting in silence or chanting om do anything but waste my time? If you give meditation a chance, it can do wonders for your stress levels.
After a solid meditation session, you become more focused and level headed. You feel more confident to take on the day. Those negative thoughts in your head start to get quiet. Without all the negativity and chaos going on, you can actually create a plan to go ahead with your busy day.
How Using Meditation for Stress Has Helped Me
Before I discovered the power of meditation, I didn’t have much of a coping mechanism when life got crazy. My anxiety would raise and my negative thoughts would run amuck. I would think, ‘There’s no way you can finish this on time. You shouldn’t have been hired in the first place.’ Sometimes my thoughts would just be on overload so badly that I would stress instead of starting my work.
When it comes to calming my mind, meditation has changed my life. When the day gets hectic, I either meditate at my desk at work with my headphones (not always possible) or leave the office to go outside and meditate. It helps me bring clarity to my thoughts. Once I finish a solid meditation session, I can go back to my desk and am able to clearly focus on what needs to be done.
Meditation also helps me keep my stress in perspective. By becoming more aware of my thoughts, I realize that I don’t have to listen to them when they freak out. They are thoughts, not truth. It also gives me a quick reminder of gratitude. I become grounded and remember that being alive is a blessing.
Even More Benefits of Meditation
If my experience hasn’t convinced you to give meditation a shot, how about some scientific proof? Although using meditation for stress is one of my favorite benefits, there are even more ways that meditation can improve your quality of life. According to Psychology Today and the Mayo Clinic, below are all of the benefits of meditation (which are all scientifically backed).
Improvements to Your Physical Health
- Boosts your immune function
- Lessens perception of pain
- Decreases inflammation at the cellular level
More Happiness in Your Life (who doesn’t want that?)
- Increases positive emotion
- Reduces negative emotions
- May decrease the symptoms of depression, anxiety, asthma, cancer, chronic pain, heart disease, high blood pressure, irritable bowel syndrome, sleep problems, and tension headaches
- Decreases stress (aka why I wrote this post)
It Can Improve Your Social Life (surprising I know)
- Increases social connection
- Increases emotional intelligence
- Makes you more compassionate
- Makes you feel less lonely
Improves Self Control
- Enhances your ability to regulate your emotions (super helpful when you want to scream ‘I QUIT!’ at the top of your lungs)
- Improves your ability to introspect, which is when you are able to examine your thoughts more clearly
- Practice for gaining a new perspective on stressful situations
- Increases grey matter. Grey matter is where the most important functions of your brain exist including muscle control, perception, memory emotions, speech, control, etc.
- Expands cortical thickness in areas related to attention span
Improves Productivity (I’ll take some of that for sure)
- Extends your focus and attention
- Improves your ability to multitask
- Enhances your memory
- Improves creativity and ability to think outside the box
How to Meditate
There are a few ways to use meditation for stress. I change up my meditation practice all the time, so definitely try a few ways out to see which ones suit you best. For most forms of meditation, I recommend finding a comfortable place to sit. A quiet place is best but it is not necessary. I used to meditate on a bench in Manhattan when work stressed me out (and still saw results!)
If you are a first timer, I highly recommend listening to a guided meditation track. You can find them on music apps like Spotify or a free Meditation app like Insight Timer. In a guided meditation, your guide will tell you what to focus your attention on. When I first tried meditating, I was confused on what I should do or if I was even doing it right. Guided meditations take away a lot of that confusion.
I also like guided meditation for when my mind is going a thousand miles a minute. Having someone guide me through a meditation session makes it easier to focus on the practice.
Other Meditation Tracks
Another way to meditate for stress is to play a track that has peaceful music and meditate on your own. I can’t explain why, but they are extremely relaxing. Sometimes these tracks can knock you out so if you’re not trying to sleep, make sure you pick one that isn’t labeled as a sleeping track and don’t lie down.
When I start the track, I first concentrate on my breathing. I feel the air coming in through my nose, notice my stomach expanding, and pay attention to the sensation of the air coming out of my body. When thoughts start to pop into my head, I don’t get mad or frustrated, I just go back to concentrating on my breath. If I am doing a longer meditation, I will also pay attention to the different sensations I am feeling in the rest of my body. I pay attention to everything from my forehead to my toes. It’s surprising how each part of your body does have a different sensation.
I don’t always have my headphones with me so sometimes I will use mindful walking to meditate. Similar to forest bathing, you must pay attention to your surroundings and how your body moves while walking. This form of mindfulness can help you clear all the chatter and stress in your head.
You can actually use many activities to meditate. The key is being mindful of the activity instead of your thoughts. (It doesn’t work if the tv is on while you’re doing it because that is mindless instead of mindful.) Yoga has many similar benefits as meditation because it forces you to pay attention to your breath and the movements of your body.
I like to use cooking as a form of meditation. When I’ve had a stressful day, getting into my kitchen to cook, helps me drown out the stress. I pay attention to the way the knife moves when I’m cutting or the next step that needs to be done. The world seems to melt away when I’m in the kitchen.
You don’t have to use cooking or yoga. Some people use running or drawing. Just do an activity (without electronics) that helps you focus.
Next Time You’re Stressed
When things start to feel overwhelming, don’t panic. Recognize that your thoughts and anxiety are just in need of control and that you have power the calm them down. Meditation can give you the ability to face stress with confidence.